Michael Cavanaugh Plays Music of Elton John

Louisville Orchestra
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Michael Cavanaugh, piano and vocals

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I believe had Sir Elton heard this past Friday evening’s performance by renowned pianist Michael Cavanaugh, he would be blushing right now.

We’ve been lucky to have Mr. Cavanaugh’s musical stylings mingle with our Louisville Orchestra before when he was here about 10 years ago sharing some of Billy Joel’s best loved piano-driven rock n’ roll and ballads. So, it came as no shock that he would tackle another piano great: Elton John, who, coincidentally, had just been to our fair city not one week prior.

As you could imagine, for this classical music lover, to have the chance to hear Elton’s works with a full orchestra and Mr. Cavanaugh’s traveling foursome that supplied organ/synth, electric guitar and bass and a full drum kit, well, it was a night for dancing in your chair and reliving songs that one grew up with.

The evening began with the high energy of Philadelphia Freedom and traveled through to the more recent I’m Still Standing. Mr. Cavanaugh shared that Your Song was the piece that solidified his appreciation for Elton John and just for fun shared its B-side, Take Me to the Pilot, with a fantastic backing by the Orchestra.

As Mr. Cavanaugh took a quick recess, the audience was treated to a mash-up of some of the most notable songs from the group Chicago, led by Mr. Cavanaugh’s band and our Orchestra, including 25 or 6 to 4, Anybody Know What Time It Is, and Saturday in the Park. For the most part it was a change of pace use of the band and the orchestra, but I was a bit disappointed in the sound of the brass section. Chicago was known for its use of brassy brass, but this presentation seemed to be a bit dulled down.

When our guest piano man returned to the stage, he reminded us that Elton was indeed a classically trained musician and was caught up in the excitement of the sound of new instrument: the synthesizer. While its use is very cool in his piece Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding, it is even more sensational with an orchestra.

The evening took us through the whole of Mr. John’s career with performances of Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Pinball Wizard, Candle in the Wind, and Yellow Brick Road. And observations were offered along the way; did you know that Bennie and the Jets has one of the most recognizable first chords in music? 

Mr. Cavanaugh also treated us to one of his own titled Dig In from his The Way I Hear It album. It was nice little piece with a piano pop vibe to it.

I appreciate when artists put a bit of an extemporaneous spin on works that have some room for it. With Honky Cat Mr. Cavanaugh injected quite a few musical melodies from The Office theme, Scott Joplin, Vince Guaraldi and, to my surprise, the Violent Femmes.

We also were witness to what Bob Bernhardt referred to as “riffer-Madness”. With the help of the orchestra and the guest band, we heard snippets of some of the most recognizable guitar riffs of recent memory, includding Smoke on the Water, Eye of the Tiger, Pretty Woman, Brick in the Wall, I Love Rock and Roll, Daytripper and they closed with a full rendition of Sweet Home Alabama. That was a good time.

The evening would not have been complete without a bit of a singalong and a nod of appreciation to the man who jumpstarted Mr. Cavanaugh’s career, so a fun rendition of Billy Joel’s Piano Man was shared and sung by all attendance, followed by one of his most treasured pieces; Crocodile Rock, once again with audience participation.

Bravi Tutti!!

Michael Cavanaugh Plays Music of Elton John

April 23, 2022

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.